Thank God for goals and younger players earning their stripes.
The first 60 minutes of the 2019 season for the St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen was an oft-told soccer story that many a player and coach can relate to — domination mixed with equal parts frustration. St. Michael’s controlled possession and the shot total for much of its match against Siringo Road rival Santa Fe High on Wednesday at Christian Brothers Athletic Complex, but all the Lady Horsemen had to show for it was a pair of goose eggs.
It was a scoreless match heading into the 62nd minute when luck broke through the burgeoning clouds that foreshadowed a coming thunderstorm and finally smiled on the Lady Horsemen. It started with freshman Grace Sandoval being in the right place at the right time when eighth grader Jada Lujan’s crossing pass was deflected the left wing’s way. Her left-footed flip into the lower left of the goal untied a scoreless knot and helped St. Michael’s to a 2-0 win.
Sandoval is one part of a group of five freshmen who paid their dues as eighth graders last year and were rewarded with a trip to the Class 1A/3A championship match. That three-match journey to the finals is still paying dividends, as the younger Lady Horsemen played with composure and confidence that belies their youth.
“I’ve learned a lot from the beginning of last season to now,” Sandoval said. “We learned a lot as a team about staying composed and keep a good shape [with the formation on the field].”
Sandoval demonstrated her cool on the winning goal, as she was in a race with Demonettes freshman goalkeeper Molly Wissman to the ball, which had slowed to a crawl thanks to the surprisingly tall grass near the left side of the net. Sandoval was quick to the ball but didn’t hurry to make her shot.
“I thought [the ball] was going to pop out, which it kinda did but kinda didn’t,” Sandoval said. “The grass isn’t mowed very low, so it was kinda delaying my run a little bit. So, I was seeing if I could, as we call it, pick up the garbage.”
Not to be forgotten was fellow freshman Farrah Baker, who scored her first varsity goal in stoppage time, as she took an Olivia Farrar cross and redirected past Wissman for an insurance goal. It led to a dog pile in front of the net, as the Lady Horsemen relished the moment with Baker.
Those were the only times Wissman couldn’t clean up the mess in front of the net for Santa Fe High. She was stout in her first varsity match, collecting five saves and covering for some defensive deficiencies that crept up in Santa Fe High’s back line. It allowed the Lady Horsemen several opportunities to attack the goal almost unimpeded.
In a five-minute stretch late in the first half, Wissman snared a pair of shots from Farrar and got help from the top post when Daisy Smith’s shot from 25 yards hit it flush and bounded away.
Missing all of those chances left a sinking feeling in the stomach of St. Michael’s head coach Maggie Feil in her coaching debut with the program.
“It’s nice when the score reflects the game,” Feil said. “That’s not how soccer always goes, though.”
Still, Feil came away with a good feeling about the team she has, especially considering how young it is in some areas. Lujan is an example of a middle schooler who has found her way onto the pitch to give the Lady Horsemen some much-needed depth, especially considering the program has just 20 players and no junior varsity.
“I did not expect it [to play],” Lujan said. “I am very surprised and very happy my coaches let me.”
It won’t be the last time the younger players make their mark in a match, and you can be sure the rest of the Lady Horsemen will be counting their blessings every time it happens.
Notes: An afternoon thunderstorm wreaked havoc on the rest of Wednesday’s opening-day action in Santa Fe. The second half of the Santa Fe High-St. Michael’s girls/boys doubleheader was washed out nine minutes into action, marking the second straight year it happened. On the south side, the Santa Fe Prep-Capital boys match also was halted in the first half. Both matches will be made up at a later date.
Also, the scheduled girls match between Capital and Santa Fe Prep was moved to later in the year, as Capital is still trying to finalize a hire for its head girls coach. Santa Fe Assistant Superintendent Larry Chavez said the team’s match against Pojoaque Valley on Monday also was rescheduled.